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tv   Charlie Rose  PBS  June 17, 2014 12:00pm-1:01pm PDT

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really about human empathy. funding a way to be empathetic with a foreign culture often in a very dangerous neighborhood and it's just fabulous at this. he could sit down and smoke a hukah pipe and he could sit down and as one of my sources said sometimes in this business you have to sup with the devil but use a long spoon, terrorists and dangerous men he did with a very short spoon and we got to know
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him. >> we end with jessye norman, the great opera star. >> certainly 200 years after the french revolution and then to sing on the concord and to be choreographed to walk around and down the steps. all of this was completely live. i was singing live, i wasn't singing to a track. >> robin wright, les gelb, kai bird, jessye norman when we continue. >> there's a saying around here: you stand behind what you say. around here, we don't make excuses, we make commitments. and when you can't live up to them, you own up and make it right.
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some people think the kind of accountability that thrives on so many streets in this country has gone missing in the places where it's needed most. but i know you'll still find it, when you know where to look. additional funding provided by: captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: we begin this evening with the escalating crises with iraq. last week the militant group es lambic state of sierra known as isis capture of two of iraq's important cities. yesterday the insurgency seeks a city which lies to the west.
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in addition graphic images emerged of masked and continued its march toward baghdad. >> joining me is robin wright and les gelb. i am pleased to have both of them on this program. i begin with you robin since you were in iraq recently, a month or so ago. tell me what you think is going on or what happened to cause this to move so rapidly. there was a story in the times over the weekend, long planned and carefully thought out. but go ahead. >> well, this is the greatest threat we've had in the last quarter century from the jihadis, they are well organized, well disciplined, well financed and well trained. they have a game plan and i think they surprised the outside world largely because of the
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timing. the swift headway they made through north western iraq. i think we've always known for the last two and-a-half years anyway this could happen, they could penetrate iraq and that the state of iraq was actually under threat. i don't think anyone understood just how fashion it might happen. in all the threats we faced in iraq, again the last 25 years since iraq's invasion of kuwait with the 2003 u.s. intervention in iraq that this is in many ways the most complex in terms of finding a solution, the most devastating in terms of its impact. this is a threat not just to the survival of the iraqi state and whether it disintegrates into two or three parts. it's also a challenge to the entire configuration of the middle east defined a century ago. and it is clearly the deepest and broadest jihadi threat
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globally any time since islam emerged since a modern political or military threat. >> rose: we'll come back to some of those points. sitting here with me is les gelb who would like to remind me and many others he came on this program a number of times along with joe biden and they co-authored a piece together suggesting what was needed in iraq was some kind of federation. having said that here's a problem in search of the solution. what's the solution. >> the solution is much harder now even if one were possible when i suggested it to take account of the fact that iraq was a flawed diverse state with sunni's and shiites and you could keep them together if they could run their own affairs within. >> rose: kind of a strong man. >> or the turfs before then.
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with all this gone you have almost a permanence of a war. >> rose: what is the united states to do? >> well, they're wondering the same thing. they haven't come up with a solution. the white how is watching this program, charlie. they're mainly thinking as they usually do in terms of people. can we live with maliki, can we get maliki to do what he didn't before. if we want to get rid of him how do we do that. who else could take his place. they're fixated on questions like that. but they have said a policy framework that isn't bad which is we are not going to shoot a bullet until the iraqi government in baghdad shows that it is offer a political approach that could gain support. only thing and we think we're
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right that the iraqi army will fight instead of run away and that the country might, might possibly be united in a federal system as its constitution allows. >> rose: is there place for the u.s. and iran to capital here even if it would mean to our sunni friends that we are in bed with their hated enemy iran. >> well the secretary of state has said the united states will consult with iran and that's playing out or beginning to play out in vienna today with the talks between the united states and iran in the context of the nuclear agreement. so that's the beginning of a process. but the pentagon has also pointed out something that's very different and that's the issue of coordination. will there be military coordination with iran. i think there's a difference between consultation and coordination. we're not heading toward a scenario at least so far that looks like the united states for
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example might provide drone cover as revolutionary guards involve themselves on the ground on behalf of the iraqi army. or maybe in place of the iraqi army. i don't think we're headed in that direction yet. but it is clear that for the first time iran and the united states share common cause and they are both concerned because their strategies have jointly failed. both of them in different degrees in different ways supporting the government of prime minister maliki. this has been in place for, you know, almost ten years. and neither side has been able to convince the prime minister to engage with all parties on the ground. and it will take both washington and the united states to help salvage. neither country can do it alone. this is a pivotal moment, a confluences of factors that could actually facilitate even the nuclear talks. this is changing the dynamics. >> rose: les.
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>> charlie i think that secretary state kerry and his iranian counterparts are talkig about this and doing it with political support here at home. senator lindsay graham even supported the notion to work with the iranians as long as the iranians say they won't do anything bad. i think we will end up working in iran. >> rose: in which way as robin points out it's not a coordinated situation but something else. >> the first thinking is if we can get the government in baghdad a political proposal that will begin to unite the people again. without that nothing will work. is there any chance of some military coordination. i would say if some of the worst fears about the jihadis coming south to baghdad turn out to be true, we might have some
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military coordination. we're not going to put anybody in on the ground. and the iranians might put commandos or others in on the ground and while we may not like it, i think we prefer it to a jihadi take over. it's the same thing in syria, charlie. of course we want it thought out. it's a bad guy but who is the bigger thread assad or the jihadis. it's the jihadis. you have to worry about who is more. >> rose: they get closer and closer to baghdad. what do we do then if they're within a day of baghdad. >> well first of all i don't think that's going to happen. i think that there are very few organized jihadi forces. the truth of the matter is our c.i.a. doesn't even know ten 10,000 how many they have there. and it's not a lot. and the iraqi forces are now
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organizing%emñ'd i think iraq wl be safe from many regular attack. there will be bombings and terrorists but not an organized attack. so there will be an opportunity for the iraqi government to get organized. >> rose: all right. robin a couple questions about, one -- three questions in fact. what is their objective here of isis number one and who are the other sunni countries very much have reason to fear islamists like these radical extremists. where are they. and three, what kind of relationship do they have with the elements that in some cases are now supporting the extremists. >> well isis really wants to create a broad islamic state
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modeled on their faith centuries ago. it wants the rigid implementation of islamic law in its purest or earliest form, most draconian form, one of which many muslims today actually reject. but it wants to do that across borders and you saw first of all in syria and now in iraq and i think the real danger is the creation of this sunni state that spans the border between syria and iraq has already disappeared. in terms of what role do the play, the real problem is there are elements reportedly inside arabia and elsewhere among the oil rich gulf states. private individuals who are supporting a lot of the isis leaders. they've provided reportedly tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars or military equipment and that's really dangerous. this is not the official position of many of our gulf allies. and there's a split. this is where we see, we talk
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very kind of simplistically about a sectarian divide between sunni and shiite. there's a divide in the sunni world in general or even the islamic world in general those who are looking for extremists core and others who are looking for more moderation, they want a 21st century state. there's a lot of diversity within the islamic world and in this question a lot of differences. in some cases you find because of that sectarian divide shiites and sunni, that's pushing a lot of sunnies more into their sunni identity and that's where we're not yet at the point we're into a sectarian war but boy are we headed there fast. >> rose: what impact will rise in these extremists coming towards baghdad. >> it will work. he is the most influention
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shiite figure in iraq and maybe worldwide. so i think you will get militias standing up and being willing to fight. let me come back to the point you were asking robin about hour friends in the gulf. because they've been doing us a great deal of damage now the government officially don't support arming the jihadis but there are plenty religious leaders in our friendly gulf states that's been supporting them in syria and now in iraq. and the united states, are in order to help calm the situation is going to have to crack down on them too.1athey look to us fr security and yet they're undermining the basis of american power and interests throughout the middle east. >> rose: crack down on the people giving the money. >> yes, crack down on the people giving money. because the saudi people they know who is giving the money. >> rose: robin what's the time frame for this. give me a sense how urgent it is
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and suppose it all goes bad. are we looking at a conflict between sunni and shi'a that was precede throughout the middle east. >> ultimately that's the greatest dilemma for the obama administration. does it get sucked into a conflict that actually becomes sectarian and involves drawing us into a division or a chasm that has been around for 1400 years. i mean that's one thing that we need to be very careful about that we don't get involved. i lived in beirut for the five years of the civilsectarian conr struggle over the definition of a modern state can endure far longer than we want. do we have to make a decision tonight or the next week over what we do. we need to be so careful in this one. the fact is that our involvement in 1990 and 91 was militarily
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decisive within six weeks. we got saddam hussein out of little kuwait. in 2003 we got hussein out of baghdad within three weeks. they were military victories but ultimately political procedures. we have to make[ñ sure as les d a political success, making sure there's a viable government representing all iraqi interests. >> rose: is this a failure of obama foreign policy. >> the obama team didn't do a great job but it was facing enormous -- >> rose: syria first or because ending without troops in iraq when they left, or both. >> well i don't think leaving iraq was the basis of this and even if we had ten or 10,000 troops in iraq. i think the political problems underneath. >> rose: did we lose influence with maliki's government -- >> bush was trying to get the agreement on status of forces
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too. he didn't succeed so i don't think you can lay this at obama's doorstep. i think that's totally unfair. the real issue now, charlie, and even if job does everything right, it's going to be hard. but the real issue now is can we put together a coherent strategy to deal with therobin has descre puts0throughout the middle east. you can't do it with iraq alone. it's an iraq and syria problem. it's a problem of the business people and the religious leaders and the gulf financing the jihadis against our interests. you have to pull all these pieces together and decide what's the problem we have to deal with first. >> rose: who is going to put all the pieces together. >> it's up to the united states because if the united states doesn't do it, it doesn't get done. >> rose: this is what ron crosswalker said yesterday. we need the secretary of state in baghdad right now. we need the president on the phone to iraqi leadership because the reality is the
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iraqis are not in a position, they were not in a position when i was there, they're not in a position now to work out hard compromises on their in. that's what you said, john kerry, get to baghdad and be the person working now. >> but then you need the overall problem because this isn't just iraq, it's syria. and it isn't just iraq and syria it's the middle east. it's an opportunity to work with the iranians to solve the larger strategic threat, which is right now the jihadis threatening both syria and iraq. and we've got to put this whole bag together for it to work. you can't just solve the problem in baghdad. >> rose: what happened to all the effort that we poured into training the iraqi army. >> charlie, this happens time and again. we poured all that effort into training, arming and equipping the south vietnamese army. when we left, the north vietnamese attacked, the south
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vietnamese army folded. we've done ten years worth of training, equipping and fightig alongside the afghan army and we do have to hurry when we pull out they're going to collapse as well and the taliban will do there what the jihadis are doing in iraq today. so it isn't the united states that can solve these problems. as long as we're there, fighting their war, they're always going to rely on us and never develop the resilience to deal with the problems on their own when we leave. >> rose: and the motivation. >> yes. >> rose: thank you less less. good to see you. thank you robin. we'll be back. stay with us. >> rose: kai bird is here a pulitzer prize winning author and columnist, a good called the good spy. it take the look at the life and death of robert aims one of the c.i.a.'s most legendary and unusual agents. aims was killed tragically in
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the 1983 bombing of the u.s. embassy in beirut. had he lived, robert aims may have heaped heal the receive between the arabs and the west. robert bear called the good spy the best book he's ever read on espionage. i'm glad to have kai bird back at this table. welcome. >> thank you charlie. >> rose: tell me the obvious, tell me who robert aims was. >> he was a veteran c.i.a. officer who rose to become mr. middle east, a briefer of ronald reagan but he started out as a clandestine c.i.a. officer in 1960, mentor by the legendary cia director richard hems. he specialized in the middle east, became a fabulous arabic language speaker. and he was, the title the good spy is apt because he was actually a very good decent man but he was also very good at his
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work. >> rose: why was he good at his work? >> human intelligence, it turns out, the art of spy craft is really about human empathy. finding a way to be empathetic with a foreign culture often in a very dangerous neighborhood. and aims was just fabulous at this. he could sit down and smoker a hookah pipe with star keepers and he could sit down as one of my sources said sometimes in this business, you have to sup with the devil. but you use a very long spoon. well aims supped with the devil often. terrorists, dangerous men but he did it with a very short spoon. he got to know them. >> rose: you tell the story he made a trip to see yasser arafat which would have been against the pia rules. he didn't tell them. >> exactly. >> rose: and then he wrote
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his wife and described it. >> it's incredible but this is one of the reasons i was able to do this back in such a closely biographical fashion i found these letters and his widow graciously gave them to me. and he had about 150 pages of handwritten letters. in one of them, you're quite right. he describedvarafat's intelliged much more. and the fact aims had supped with the devil, he got very close to, he cultivated initially as recruitment but he realized that the man with a not recruitable. >> rose: you could not buy him. >> couldn't buy him. so he turned -- >> rose: he tried. >> they trade. aims' superiors tried and failed. but one day solame took bob aims into one of the refugee camps
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and unannounced introduced him to arafat. this is a time when henry kissinger had promised the israelis and said we would never talk to the members of the plo, palestinian liberation association. it was a terrorists association, we wouldn't have any dealings with them. but of course when aims started this relationship in 1969, very early, with solame, kissinger knew about it. not immediately, but aims told his boss and helms encouraged him to do it because that's what intelligence officers do. they go where foreign intelligence officers can't do. >> rose: tell me about solame because that's crucial to the book. >> it's a fascinating story. these are two men who are
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complete opposites. aims was the son of a steel worker from philadelphia, not blue bud. he was the son of a steel worker from philadelphia, all american literally basketball player. tall, six foot three, handsome, through eyes, hazel blue eyes and blond and just strikingly hand some. he favored cowboy boots and tinted glasses. walking down the street of beirut, he stuck out like an american. he was a good husband, a good father to his six children. he would have a drink occasionally but he didn't like to drink. he got criticized inside by his own colleagues in the c.i.a. he said well if you don't drink alcohol, how can you recruit agents. but some lame was the exact
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opposite. >> rose: before you go to solame, what was true about aims in the beginning of his career, there was some argument against him because they said he's too intellectual. >> exactly. you know, again, he came from la salle college, not harvard or yale or berkley. >> rose: that's the other side they're saying he's too intellectual. >> but he loved books and apparently when you walk into his apartment in beirut, it would be cluttered with books, history books about the middle east. he favored history books and biographies, read very few novels. the exception was la carre. >> rose: tell me about solame. >> he was about 27 years old, he was arafat's body guard and intelligence chief and pretty smart political operative. he favored black clothes.
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and gold chain and his shirt unbuttoned to show his hair chest. he loved fast cars and good red wines. he was a muslim but he favors good red wine and he loved beautiful women. and he was married to a lovely palestinian woman and had two kids but he fell in love and acquired a mistress and then a second wife the form of georgeiana. he fell in love with ms. universe and aims had to at one point, again they were total opposite but they respected each other. they formed a working professional relationship. so when solame acquired this other woman, aims didn't approve
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of. solame was about to marry her and he said bob george gina would like to vite america and would like to go to disneyland and aims arranged it. they sent him to hawaii for a short vacation and your liens -- new orleans where there was a large meeting of officers to a brief and debrief some lame. >> rose: solame was a bad guy too. >> he wore a gun. he wore a pistol in his belt. aims had to do that too but he hated guns. he was no james bond and that tort of stereo fashion. but solame carried a gun and he was involved with black september. >> rose: when did you develop a relationship with mrs. aims? >> well, one of the reasons i got on to this story was that as a young man when i was a boy 11,
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12, 13, i was aims next door neighborhood. my father was posted and this is where aims was first posted a broad. and he was our next door neighbor on this very small wind-swift desert compound. so i had vivid memories of him and his lovely blue-eyed blond wife. >> rose: you write about him that this is what you say. the point was to influence the course of history to create a better world. he believed he wanted the intelligence to persuade the policy makers to make good decisions but by the summer of 1978 he felt that american pause in the middle east had run into a dead end. >> yes. he became very frustrated. this is a typical story as i learned from sort of the clandestine wing of the c.i.a. you come into the agency and
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you're excited by the secrets that you're exposed to. >> rose: you know things. >> you know things other people don't know and you think that that's going to help you to change the world. aims is very idealistic in this way. and you think as a young officer that you're going to be able to influence the policy makers, the politicians who actually run foreign policy, if they just know what i know. but after, well, after 18 years in the agency, aims was becoming little more cynical, much more skeptical. >> rose: but he thought he could use hills relationship with solame to influence arafat and make them less radical and more willing to engage and pursue a two-state solution. >> exactly. i argue in the book that this is what happened. over the course of their ten-year relationship from 69 to 79, you know. it was a two-way street. solame was trying to draw aims
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in and through aims get the u.s. government to deal with the plo. simultaneously, aims was trying to draw solame and influence him and his boss arafat into being more realistic about palestinian aspirations and to think of laying down the gun and to start talkint ly to the americans but eventually to the israelis about a compromise, a political compromise. what we would call today a two-state solution. i argue he was successful, if you look at the progression of palestinian narrative in the 70's. they got closer and closer to doing this. and this led not directly but it planted the seeds of oslo. >> rose: the ma ssad as i suggested earlier had solame on a hit list. >> very early on. >> rose: they wanted him because of other things that they felt like he had been
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complacent in. >> wellmassad tried to kill hima letter bomb as earlyaa3j as 1971 before munich. and aims actually warned solame not to open this mail at his home. that saved his life at least once. >> rose: did the israelis know that. >> eventually they did. >> rose: that he warned him. >> yes. >> rose: not to be opening mail. >> yes. in 1978 one of the officers approached one of aims' bosses at a conference in london and asked, is solame your man. has he been recruited. >> rose: if he is we will not assassinate would be the implicit understanding. >> well he wasn't a recruited agent so this c.i.a. officer turned on his heels without giving an answer but this precipitated a hot debate at
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langley and c.i.a. head quarters about what to do. what do we tell the israelis. aims learned about the debate. by this time he was out of the clandestine service and director of the intelligence doing analysis. but he heard what was going on and he again warned solame you have to be careful. and he actually shipped him encrypted communications equipment trying to beef up his security. >> rose: there's also ssgari. >> he was a young intelligence officer in the revolution guard corps right after the revolution in 79 who fought first in kurdistan and then was shipped to lebanon in the wake of the israeli invasion in the summer of 82. and he was one of the, i report he was one of the iranian intelligence officers who stayed behind after his youth was transferred back to iran later
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in 82, 83. and i have sources saying he was the intelligence officer on the ground for the iranians who put together the truck bomb attacks. not only on the u.s. embassiy that killed aims on april 18th, 1983 and 16 other americans and wiped out the whole c.i.a. station, eight c.i.a. officers. most americans will remember much better that happened six months later on the marine barracks. >> rose: when reagan said get out of iraq, i mean lebanon. >> his story too is fast noting because he had a long career in iran, rose very high up and became deputy defense minutity asgari did. >> rose: under a moderate president. >> under a moderate president. and then had a falling out
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ahmadinejad in in 2007 he defected. left iran on a business trip supposedly to syria and then disappeared across the border into turkey. and it's a mystery about where he is today. but i report that he was debriefed in washington d.c. in a c.i.a. safe house and he came with a laptop filled with intelligence about intelligence and hezbollah. this is dealing with bad guys. >> rose: you think he's somewhere in the united states today. >> i think he's somewhere in the united states or somewhere under an alias and protection in europe. >> rose: so he delivered for
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the united states so they decided to give him witness protection. >> apparently this is what happenedxw) yes. without a doubt he defected. and he's somewhere but we don't know where. >> rose: what happened to aims? >> well, aims, you know, after his contact in the plo, solame was killed, he was devastated by this. he thought this was a big mistake by the c.i.a. >> rose: how did he learn. >> he was in langley one day and got the news. i described an eye witness watching him get the news and he became ashen and he was clearly shocked. >> rose: but he knew that the massad was after them. >> he knew, he hoping solame would survived. >> rose: it was a car bombing. >> yes. then aims switched to the analytical side of the agency
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and was promoted rapidly. by 82, he was the guy who was briefing ronald reagan in the whitehouse on anything to do with the middle east. he's the guy who persuaded. >> rose: he would brief the president. >> in the oval office and in camp david during the summer of 82 that crises summer -- >> rose: part of that was because of casey. >> he was close to casey. casey understood that aims was not only a great clandestine officer but a great briefer. >> rose: and casey liked >> he did. >> rose: he gave access to reagan and explained things to reagan. >> yes. and aims became the guy who persuaded reagan to sign on to the reagan peace initiative of september 1st, 82. which was the first sort of u.s. initiative that thrust the u.s. government into the midst of the israeli palestinian conflicker and said all right, you guys
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can't agree what to do. here's our american plan. and it was a step forward, i argue, but it never went anywhere. >> rose: you of he was finally killed. >> he happened to go back to beirut on april 17th, a sunday. the next day he walked into the u.s. embassy and a few hours later this truck bomb rolled in with 2000 pounds of plastic explosives. >> rose: 16 people died. >> -- lebanonese died. >> rose: who did that. >> i argued that was the iranian revolutionary corps and this guy asgari. >> rose: he was the master mind behind it. >> else on the ground master mind. >> rose: the operations on the ground. >> this was state terrorism. it wasn't an operation by
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suicide bombers. >> rose: you also argue because of some mistakes that hezbollah got empowered in lebanon. >> yes. this is the beginning of hezbollah. in 1983, hezbollah didn't really exist but there was a shadowy break off group that formed0rigf september 82. and this really precipitated the formation of hezbollah as a political force representing the shiites of southern lebanon and beirut. >> rose: why do we love the intrigue of the middle east so much. >> well as the israelis constantly tell us, it's a neighborhood filled with a complex mosaic of cultures and
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religion. aims fell in love with the middle east even though it was a difficult place to work. >> rose: he wanted to learn. >> he wanted to learn. >> rose: he studied. >> he studied arabic, he could joke in the language, he could read the literature, he could read the newspaper and carry on a political conversation. this is very rare i have to say for an intelligence officer. even today there are very few c.i.a. officers who can do what he did back in the 80's. >> rose: the book is called the good spy, the life and death of robert aims by kai bird. back in a moment, stay with us. >> jessye norman is here and we can be happy about that. the aimed opera star's written a book called stand up straight and sing. her memoirs share a story growing up in georgia performing in the world's greatest opera
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houses. i'm happy to have you back at the table. >> thank you. >> rose: tell me about that stand up and sing. >> that's what my mother used to say when i was seven or eight years old in brownies or something and getting ready to perform. she would stand up straight. >> rose: did she have the most influence on you. >> so many people that have influences, still have influence on me, especially my parents but my grandparents my aunts uncles, the next door neighborhood. the ladies across the street. >> rose: when did you know you had a voice that recommended itself. >> well, since i've been singing, since i've been speaking, i always say i have no recollection of never being singing. never being a singer. i have no recollection of that. so i was always willing to do it and wanting to do it. and it helps to say i was a bit of a ham. in fact i rather enjoy it. >> rose: did it start in the church. >> it started at home and then in the church and then in the
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schools and then in community organizations. but certainly my first performance was in my own living room. >> rose: many people have had conversations with you including me a number of times. but why write this? was there part of your two you felt like we didn't know. >> part of my story that certainly was not known and only i can talk about my relationship to my family. and talking about growing up in the segregated south and overcoming that. at the same time that i was growing up, i wasn't lumbered with this. this wasn't a cross i was bearing as a child because i grew up in a loving wonderful community. in a kind of cocoon if you will. this was an incredibly supportive thing. of course at the time one doesn't realize it when you're growing up. you don't understand that people are growing up in different way. but having loving parents and people in their community that are as interested in you as they can possibly be. the woman across the street wants to know what your report
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card looks like. >> rose: and to communicate to you that you can do anything you want. >> absolutely. that you might have to work at it harder than should be reasonable but you can do it and that you must do it, absolutely. >> rose: you mentioned the segregated south and your parents. they gave you protection and confidence. >> yes. and experience and talking to. i mean, it was not an unusual thing at all for my father and mother to come and sit us down in the living room and talk to us about the day's problems or something that had been on television for montgomery or thelma or somewhere. and for us to understand it, and to know that this was, we were a part of the struggle as well. even as young children. and that we needed to understand that. and to surmount that. >> rose: so when did you leave agusta. >> i left agusta at age 17 to go to howard university as a freshman there. that was a good place to go, it certainly was a good place to
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go. it turns out charlie that i was actually admitted to howard university the year before that. i was only 16 years old and had not completed high school. >> rose: you got early admission. >> well i had early admission because!kúr happened upon howard university coming back from having performed in the mary anderson competition when i was 15 getting to be 16. and stopped in washington on the way back from philadelphia on the way to agusta on the train with my choir director rosa sanders. we went to howard university unannounced and the dean of music at the time has been dean in agusta when rosa was a student. called him up said we were in town. we went over to the university and it was a school day, it was a friday and he invited us to come up to meet the voice department, the voice department head and it was carolyn granted. she asked me to sing and at 15
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or 16 you can sing at a drop of a hat. i sang for her. she was teaching a class in pedagogue at the time. we waited outside her class until she was done. she said i like very much what i heard. she celled how old you. i said i'm 15 nearly 16. she said are you doing well in school. i said yes i'm on the honor's list you know. she said your high school transcript have to bear that how the and she said after you finish high school i would like to teach you. >> rose: was she a wonderful teacher. >> by the time i got to her charlie, she had been teaching voice for 45 years. there wasn't anything about the voice or vocal production or one's own physiology that she doesn't know and she couldn't explain. it was really, it was wonderful. >> rose: what have you learned about your voice over the years. >> i've learned about my voice to take care of it. that it needs rest as much as it needs exercise. and that i have to respect the
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fact that i mustn't sit thinking i'll be all right because that is very dangerous. i can't be around people that are coughing. one has to take one's physical body and one is taken care of one's voice. >> rose: there's a chapter called this on my journey now, growing up in germany. >> growing up in germany. i really, i feel that i grew up in germany because my whole horizon of what the world was like changed. going from the segregated south having gone to university to the conservatory to the university of michigan and now i was living in a divided country and a divided city. and it was the irony. >> rose: berlin. >> berlin. there i was never having been on the professional stage as an opera singer ever and making my debut a quintessential character
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in a germany opera house. i was like a sponge. i was soaking up everything that was happening. whether it was the theatre across the street, whether they were doing shakespeare in german to such a level it hadn't been written in german to begin with. >> rose: you had to develop an appetite to know the world. >> develop an appetite to understand the whole world and understand how different it was. and people living under an oppression that would have crushed the soul had they allowed it to. but they didn't allow it to. they went to their museum, they went to concerts. even though it was what we called the iron curtain. their spirits were flying high and this was a lesson to me, truly was. >> rose: way before you knew me, i was in paris. i think i've told you this story. >> tell me. >> rose: i was in paris and you sang and you came down that sort of whatever it was
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stairway. >> yes. >> rose: and sang. first, why did they choose you? >> well, i think -- >> rose: who chose you. >> president mitterand. he chose me -- the flag of france and he wanted to extend that to include all of us and not just the french. not on the day that they were celebrating the bicentennial of the french revolution. and of course i was extremely honored to be chosen. >> rose: look at that jiecialghts and -- >> and i did it. >> rose: eventually watching you, i was just taken. it's like, you know. and i would be sitting across the table many times after that. >> yes. >> rose: here is a tape that day and that evening. here it is.
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>> rose: how is that in your memory bank. >> it's at the front of my memory bank. there were hundreds of thousands of people in the street, as you well remember that evening. and i probably should say over the last 20 years i think i have met everybody. i think have it, indeed. it's just been incredible. >> rose: it was so memorable.
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>> it was so memorable. and so memorable for so many reasons. i mean, certainly the 20 0 years after the french revolution and then to sing on the concord and around the obelisk. i was sing live not to a track. i was sort of disjointed a bit from the chorus because the conductor could see me but i couldn't see anybody i had to rely on what i was hearing. i still remember in my body thinking okay you studied these texts, you know these words as well as you know your own name. just get on with it, just do it. >> rose: who choose the outfit. >> the outfit, that was designed by alaya and he had been chosen by john paul who was the person in charge. and so it was decided by the
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ministry by the president that i should wear something that resembled the french flag and that is what he came up. and it certainly resembles the french flag. >> rose: other than that, tell me about great moments on the stage. >> great moments on stage, my goodness. i would have to count the first time i ever sang in carnegie hall and i had only been singing about four years or something, maybe less than that. and then of course the opening night of the 100 night of the opera was my debut. >> rose: what did you. >> later on i sung cassandra -- both those characters on the same night. that was quite a workout. >> rose: are there performances or operas or compositions that you think
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jessye norman owns this, i don't dare say that. i can only say there are things that i sing that other people want me to sing a lot. like before last songs of strauss or this one person opera that i do, which is the waiting. or another one person opera i do which is the play that was turned into an opera by francis pulang. this is something i doively from other singers so i get asked to do these things very often. >> rose: anybody really you wanted to work with and for whatever reason, schedules or chance did not happen. >> i'm sure that is true. i would have to think hard. but i'm certainly that there would have been people. i would have liked to have had the opportunity to work more with a conductor with whom i had the great privilege of working when i first started singing. and that was rudolph.
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and i learned so much from that man in such a short period. and i was very sorry that we didn't work more because it was really marvelous. i did songs with him and i learned so much about singing and portraying deep thoughts within a song. and allowing the audience to feel that and not to get caught up in the emotion of one self. and that was something that was important to learn very early and i wish we sort of had the chance to go on. >> rose: is there a film based on you in paris, what's it called diva. >> it's called diva, starring willhemia hernandez. >> rose: did they talk to you about that film. >> they did talk to me to be accurate about the young man portrayed there who did exist. his name was alar and he really did work for the post office delivering telegrams. remember telegrams.
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>> rose: yes, i did. one of the interesting things having the life you led the profession that chose you, it's a global thing. >> it is a global thing. >> rose: and therefore it's a thing that also you get to meet almost everyone. >> and it is wonderful and it is marvelous to see that it truly does transcend our border because you can find a person that is working as a cashier -- and that's like hearing the president of austria saying it's wonderful. >> rose: and you are too. >> thank you. >> rose: the book is called stand up straight and sing. >> stand up straight and sing. >> rose: good to see you. >> thank you. >> rose: thank you for joining us. see you next time.
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captioning sponsored by rose communications captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org
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the following production was produced in high definition. ♪ and their buns are something i have yet to find anywhere else. >> 'cause i'm not inviting you to my house for dinner. >> breaded and fried and gooey and lovely. >> in the words of arnold schwarzenegger, i'll be back! >> you've heard of connoisseur. i'm a common-sewer! >> they knew i had to ward off some vampires or something. >> let's talk desserts, gentlemen, 'cause i see you

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